Does mentioning other gods indicate a belief in those other gods? (There are like a million verses in this post so settle in)

Okay oh my gosh. We will be looking at all of this page except the first three (which were covered in the previous post).

http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/gods.html

The verses concerned are as follows.

Exodus 12:12 – And against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment

Exodus 15:11 – Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods?

Exodus 18:11 – Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods.

Exodus 20:3, 5 – Thou shalt have no other gods before me. … Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.

Exodus 22:20-28 – He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed. (v.20)

Thou shalt not revile the gods. (v.28)

Exodus 23:13-32 – Make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth. (v.13)

Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images. (v.24)

Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. (v.32)

Exodus 34:14 – For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

Numbers 33:4 – Upon their gods also the LORD executed judgments.

Deuteronomy 3:24 – What God is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to thy works?

Deuteronomy 5:7 – Thou shalt have none other gods before me.

Deuteronomy 6:14-15 – Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you;(For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you)

Deuteronomy 10:17 – For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords.

Deuteronomy 28:14 – Thou shalt not … go after other gods to serve them.

Joshua 24:2-14 – They served other gods. (v.2)

Fear the Lord … and put away the gods which your fathers served. (v.14)

Judges 11:24 – Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess?

1 Samuel 6:5 – Ye shall give glory unto the God of Israel: peradventure he will lighten his hand from off you, and from off your gods.

1 Samuel 28:13 – And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.

1 Chronicles 16:25 – The Lord … is to be feared above all gods.

Psalm 82:1-6 – God standeth in the congregation of the mighty, he judgeth among the gods. (v.1)

I have said, Ye are gods. (v.6)

Psalm 86:8 – Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord.

Psalm 96:4 – For the Lord … is to be feared above all gods.

Psalm 97:7 – Worship him, all ye gods.

Psalm 135:5 – Our Lord is above all gods.

Psalm 136:2 – O give thanks unto the God of gods.

Jeremiah 1:16 – I will utter my judgments against them … who have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods.

Jeremiah 10:11 – The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens.

Jeremiah 25:6 – And go not after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, and provoke me not to anger with the works of your hands; and I will do you no hurt.

Jeremiah 46:25 – I will punish the multitude of No, and Pharaoh, and Egypt, with their gods.

Zephaniah 2:11 – The Lord will be terrible to them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth.

John 10:33-34 – The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?

1 John 5:7 – For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

Okay, wow. Some of these require a little extra attention, but let’s lay down some general facts first.

The link above also contains some references to explicit declarations of monotheism in Deuteronomy. Yet the author of Deuteronomy, the same guy, also wrote some of the verses in this list. Could he not make up his mind? Did his position change as he was writing? (Adherents to the Documentary Hypothesis should note that some scholars believe that the author was Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch – if this is accurate, the same point applies to the Jeremiah excerpts)

The correct, obvious response is summarized in Friedman’s Commentary on the Torah:

Some argue that the wording of the first commandment is not properly monotheistic. They say the commandment “You shall not have other gods before my face (or: in my presence, or: before me)” suggests a recognition that other gods exist. They therefore argue that the commandment only prohibits the worship of other deities but does not deny their reality. This appears to be a too-careful reading of these words. The fact is that it is difficult to word a command of monotheism without referring to other deities. This is simply a fact of language. (I frequently suggest to my students that they try to compose a number of formulations of a command of monotheism, and we regularly find that a substantial number of the possible formulations will contain reference to other gods.) Those who hold the view that monotheism came late in Israel cannot build a case on the wording of the first commandment. The issue here is linguistic, not theological.

Basically, a sentence referring to someone’s gods is not a recognition that those gods exist. If an atheist facebook page posts an image macro attacking God, they are not saying they believe in God, they are referring to a character that we believe in. This is just ordinary language stuff, and the SAB using these sorts of verses to pretend it indicates poly/henotheism is characteristically dishonest.

It is also worth noting that some verses (including almost all of the Psalms passages (although Psalms are poems and songs anyway and don’t necessarily reflect literal truth claims in every given sentence, so perhaps this point is moot to begin with)) use Hebrew words which include not only deities but earthly kings and judges and so on, and just means authority figures. Here is one example of a few.

http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H430&t=KJV

That knocks out most of these verses right off the bat, but a lot of them have nuances which deserve specific attention.

This one, from Judges 11:
Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess?

This is a message from Jephthah (Remember him? The guy who killed his daughter? That guy) to the King of Ammon. He is trying to be persuasive, and is appealing to their own religious convictions to get them to do what he wants them to do. If I was talking to a Muslim and was like “Allah wouldn’t want that, gangsta” or if a mythicist asked me what Jesus would do in a given situation, that is not an admission that those beings exist. It is an attempt to appeal to a fundamental aspect of the listener’s belief system in order to persuade them.

1 Samuel 28:13
And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.

This is one of several of the verses that uses a vague term which could also mean judges, kings, deities, etc, but I am giving it special attention because it features clearly supernatural beings. Traditionally, this passage is about angels or (given the context, she is summoning dead souls, specifically that of Samuel, Prophet and Judge) extremely Godly men. The Talmud explains the verse thusly ( http://halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Chagigah.pdf ):

For it is written: And the woman said unto Saul: I see godlike beings coming up out of the earth. ‘Coming up’ implies two:
one was Samuel, but [who was] the other? Samuel went and brought Moses with him, Saying to him:
Perhaps, Heaven forfend, I am summoned to Judgment: arise with me, for there is nothing that
thou hast written in the Torah, which I did not fulfil.

So portraying this as poly/henotheistic is a bit of a stretch, to say the least. The Hebrew does not necessitate so and the ancient Hebrews did not view it so.

John 10:33-34
The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?

… Here Jesus calls other humans “gods”. This is not a declaration of poly/henotheism. This verse would have a very good place in certain arguments but doesn’t make any sense in this context. The verse he is quoting is from Psalms, and uses one of those words that just means “powerful beings”, so it seems most likely that Jesus is punning here, because the verse he is quoting is not calling people actual deities.

1 John 5:7
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

This is just straight up Trinitarian theology. At the end it says they are one. One. Not three deities. One. Construing Trinitarian theology as polytheism misunderstands Trinitarian theology. This topic calls for an article on its own (and within the coming weeks, I will write one, and edit this post to link it here), but in the meantime, the author knows what this is, and this feels more like a potshot than a legitimate attempt to argue for Biblical poly/henotheism. The SAB goes on to claim that this verse was added later, presumably by Trinitarians. Which would weaken any counterargument that Trinitarian theology is not the natural reading of the text and that I am forcing an interpretation that isn’t there. Again, it straight up says they are one. Open/shut, until I write the Trinity article.

So… I feel comfortable concluding that, with the 11 monotheistic verses provided by SAB and all of their poly/henotheistic verses being not as they claim, the Bible appears to not necessarily assert that other deities exist.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s